Posted by Joel Martinsen on Saturday, December 27, 2008 at 1:02 PM
Beijing TV profiles a woman named Ma Cheng who writes her name with a particularly obscure character:
In the video, Ma explains that her parents were inspired by a trend where given names are made up of a tripled surname, as inand . For her name, they decided to use a horizontally-composed character rather than the comparatively more common stacked character .
Although Ma says her grandfather found the character in the Cihai, a large dictionary, the show has its doubts that the three-horse cheng character really exists. Intrepid journalists comb through reference works and finally locate it in the Kangxi Dictionary (page scan), where it's listed as a variant form of , "gallop".
What's interesting about Ma's story is how her name has been handled by business and government agencies she's dealt with during her 26 years. Some have hand-written the character, while others have gone the toneless pinyin route: 马CHENG.
More technologically-sophisticated systems have no problem handling her name. It's printed on her passport, and when she flies it only takes a few extra minutes for the airport to figure out how to input the character. And a rental agency demonstrates to reporters how they used a built-in Microsoft Windows tool (the Private Character Editor eudcedit.exe) to build the character themselves.
Predictably, PSB computers are behind the curve, and they've been a major source of the problems Ma Cheng has had with her name. Her first-generation ID card, with its hand-written cheng character, has expired, and because PSB computers are unequipped to handle a printed version, she can't get a second-generation card. Inside the country, passports aren't widely accepted as a valid form of identification for Chinese nationals, so a PSB-issued ID card is pretty much a necessity.
If a name change ultimately turns out to be absolutely necessary, Ma intends to choose the four-character name 马马马马. That name's not exactly problem-free, either: Ma Cheng reads it as "Ma Mamama," but the host seems to think it's "Mama Mama."
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